Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords]

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Tim Loughton: I agree that we have had a full and frank debate about the amendment. However, at the end of it, we are no nearer to any definitions or avoiding lawyers instantly going to court if the Bill were passed in its current form.

It was telling that the more frustrated that the Minister got, and the more unable she was to counter some of the very good points made by Opposition Members, she seemed to relapse into a natural prejudice against the tobacco industry by coming up with phrases such as, ''Past experience of the tobacco industry would lead one to believe that it wants to get away with anything.'' As my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has said, it is legitimate for tobacco manufacturers or retailers, just as it is for any other legal business in this country, to want to get on with the business of selling their products in as effective a way as possible. We are not arguing about that.

Since the Government were elected in 1997, they have made no attempt to go to the tobacco industry severely to tighten the voluntary agreement that many of us would say has achieved dramatic effects in the 25 years since it has been in operation. They have made no attempt to speak to the tobacco industry to produce a version of the voluntary agreement that went much further than before. There are a host of possible measures, and I have mentioned that I would be in favour of some of them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds made an exceedingly telling point when he referred to the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the Medicines Act 1968 and the Gaming Act 1968. Those Acts appear to have worked, and I am not aware of an attempt by the Government to revisit any of them to tighten up on the definitions. If they had not worked, and the Gaming Act and the Medicines Act have apparently worked for 34 years, there would be a case for not having such tight definitions. In the Government's busy legislative process, I am not aware of any measures to revisit any of those three Acts.

If one goes through the exhaustive list that my hon. Friends and I gave in respect of the Consumer Credit Act, the examples of the gaps and loopholes with which the Minister belatedly came up were mostly addressed in it, or could be addressed by an adaptation of it.

Mr. Ruffley: Is it my hon. Friend's deduction that the Minister cannot be bothered to draft a proper definition of an advertisement?

Tim Loughton: To be fair to the Minister, she is usually full of energy and enthusiasm, as are her officials. There is no laziness in the drafting of the Bill. However, the Government's culture is one of leaving it to the courts rather than coming up with decent, closely-defined, exhaustively-debated legislation. We know that Labour members of the Committee are bored to tears, and they consider it impudent that they should be dragged to debate legislation in Committee. I thought that we all came to Parliament to ensure that legislation is properly scrutinised, effective, watertight, fair and will stand up in the courts for people who will, or will not, benefit from it.

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To take the example of the van, it would be legitimate to limit a van to having the name of a product on its side. It could be Marlboro, but there would be no pictures or slogans. That would be a sensible precaution for vans, as heavy goods vehicles have to be labelled if they contain dangerous chemicals or other hazardous substances in case they are involved in accidents. Of course, it would be absurd to plaster the name Benson and Hedges dozens of times over a building, let alone on the roof as was mentioned earlier, given that it would be on view only to aircraft. The Bill could limit itself to one mention of a visible place and what goes on in the factory.

The same can apply to various issues. The exhibition of pictures is mentioned specifically in the Consumer Credit Act. There are many ways in which we could easily clamp down on a heck of a lot of loopholes, without there being much addition to the Bill. As it stands, anyone from the tobacco industry who is listening to the debate will have a shopping list of matters that they can instruct their lawyers to challenge in the courts the minute that the Bill is enacted, if they are so minded.

We have missed an opportunity to make it absolutely clear what they can and cannot do. However, the Minister prefers to leave it to the lawyers to argue the toss. That is unsatisfactory. The first clause is important. It is the litmus test of how we define the way that we continue; it is essential that definitions are watertight at the outset. The hon. Lady does not go along with that, and that is regrettable. The amendment is important and, on that basis, I shall press it to a Division and I urge my hon. Friends to vote for it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division No. 2]

Flook, Mr. Adrian
Hunter, Mr. Andrew
Loughton, Tim
Ruffley, Mr. David
Wilshire, Mr. David

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Barrett, John
Cooper, Yvette
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Mallaber, Judy
Robertson, John
Taylor, David
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Ward, Ms Claire
Wishart, Pete

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman: It may be helpful if I advise the Committee that we have already had a wide-ranging debate on the first amendment, so it is unlikely that we shall have a debate on clause stand part.

Mr. Wilshire: On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I anticipated that ruling, but one or two minor matters are not strictly covered by the next amendment. Will it be in order to refer to them during our debate on

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amendment No. 2, given that we shall not have an opportunity to debate them later, and thus speed up the proceedings of the Committee?

The Chairman: It is proper that the hon. Gentleman has brought that matter to my attention. I shall certainly bear it in mind during the debate on the next amendment.

Tim Loughton: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 7, at end insert

    'but does not include a product which is made partly of tobacco (or any of its constituents) and is intended to assist a consumer of tobacco products to stop or reduce his use of such products.'.

It is a dead cert that the Government would want to adopt the amendment. It is helpful and the aim behind it is to achieve what we all want, which is to help people who want to give up smoking. In other words, we want to ensure that the Bill will not clamp down on various smoking avoidance products such as Nicorette patches, which try to wean smokers off cigarettes and other tobacco products. Although helpful, it is a probing amendment. If the Government can say that a helpful product will not be caught by the Bill, we shall be relieved.

It is not clear whether nicotine, as the most significant component of tobacco, is defined as a product that consists wholly or partly of tobacco. If it were, certain nicotine replacement therapy products would fall within the prohibitions of the Bill. We would have an absurd situation in which the Bill would prohibit cigarette advertising, but we could end up legitimately promoting pure nicotine consumption—an undesirable result. If the substance is not regarded as being a product made wholly or partly of tobacco, it is possible under the Bill for a product that is intended to be used recreationally and which can be

    ''smoked, sniffed, sucked or chewed''

or otherwise used, which includes nicotine that is derived from tobacco, but which does not otherwise include tobacco, to be advertised and promoted, subject to the product complying with an appropriate regulatory requirement. It is not certain what the Government's stance would be with such a product.

I think that the Minister said previously that nicotine products were not covered by the Bill, but by licence under the Medicines Act 1968, which had quite an airing during our earlier discussion. It must be made explicitly clear that nicotine-based replacement products—anti-smoking products—would not fall foul of the Bill. Perhaps the hon. Lady could give us such an assurance. If not, it seems perfectly sensible to add to the Bill that such products are specifically exempt from it. I cannot see harm in doing that, but she is in a much better position than me to know whether the amendment would have a counter effect elsewhere that we would not want to achieve.

John Barrett: At first glance, I thought that the amendment was helpful, but it depends on the effect of advertising nicotine as distinct from advertising tobacco. Anyone could claim that a low-tar cigarette was being promoted to reduce a smoker's dependency

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on high-tar cigarettes, and under the amendment advertisers could continue to advertise low-tar cigarettes and claim that they were beneficial to people who were addicted to high-tar cigarettes. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. The initial appearance that the amendment is helpful does not stand up to scrutiny.

Mr. Hunter: According to the hon. Gentleman's premise, would it not be a good thing if people were encouraged to move from high-tar cigarettes to low-tar cigarettes? What is his quarrel if that were the case?

John Barrett: A movement towards no cigarettes is the desired end product. A move to low-tar cigarettes is not as good as that.

Mr. Wilshire: Of both the amendments that have been tabled so far, I hope that the Government take amendment No. 2 less seriously. Whether we agree or disagree on the wisdom of the Bill in principle, I suspect that anything we can possibly do to reduce the number of smokers and therefore the harm that smoking does to us would unite members of the Committee—even my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, who smokes. Perhaps he would be grateful if we could help him—or perhaps not.

Whatever we feel, we need to consider how to try to help smokers. I must rely on anecdotal evidence of friends and acquaintances who smoke who tell me how incredibly difficult it is to give up and how they need all sorts of help and support in order to do so. I read about various products on the market aimed at helping people give up, and as I understand the claims and some research done into them, some of them are effective in helping people give up smoking, which we all want to happen.

I understand that there is some doubt about some products whose origin is tobacco itself, rather than the chemical industry or another source. If the products that are shown to work fall foul of the prohibition, we are in danger of cutting off our noses to spite our faces and making it harder for people to give up.

I suppose that it is possible for people to argue—I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister chooses to do so—that if people cannot get hold of cigarettes, they might use cigarette substitutes and stick patches on themselves to get some sort of fix from tobacco, even if they do not smoke themselves. I suppose that it might be argued that it is possible to abuse such products in a way that is not intended. If the Minister wishes to argue that, I sincerely hope that she will produce research evidence to show that that has happened and will happen. If that is the argument against excluding some items that are made partly from tobacco, we must weigh whether the risk of allowing that to happen by excluding them from the ban is greater than the good that is done by promoting such items to help people give up smoking. I hope that the Minister will deal with that.

Mr. Amess, you kindly said that we could raise other issues, but for the moment I should like to focus on that. When I have heard what the Minister has to say, I may want to raise a few other matters.

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